Friday, October 24, 2008

Conceptual Change

"Problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them." This quotation is typically attributed to Albert Einstein. Wikiquote has no attribution for it.
A similar thought, also attributed to Einstein is
"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different result."
Wikiquote attributes this to Rita Mae Brown, from Sudden Death, Bantam Books, New York, 1983, p. 68.

I've been struggling with changing my patterns of thinking. I was working on a project recently and kept running up against blocks that I have run up against time and time again. My challenge has been to rethink my response to the blocks and to re-imagine the very nature of my work. If I don't change how I respond, I'll end up with similar results to those I've had in the past.

This is the coach's challenge: how does a coach get a performer to perform more effectively? The answer: get them to do things differently. For me, what I typically work with is trying to envision the project in different ways, and to see the different spaces in the project that can be effectively approached with useful tools.

This is, I suppose, partly a left-over of what I learned in my Ph.D. program, which had been set up by Horst Rittel, a design theorist--that is to say, a philosopher who studied the process of design. Rittel argued that there were basically no simple, easily defined steps in design processes, and that there were no grand schemes to follow to guide the designer to his/her goal. Instead the designer had to work towards an uncertain goal, one that shifted as the designer came to see new aspects of the problem, and the best one can do in terms of applying methodologies, or specific techniques, was to find places where those techniques could be used to forward the project without assuming that they would lead to an answer.

Because I don't think that we can prescribe methodologies very well, and less so, the larger the task, I tend to try to look for ways to re-envision the task at hand so that it can be seen as a series of smaller related tasks.

At the same time, because there is no over-arching methodological framework to guide the designer/writer, it is important for the writer to seek an overarching vision of the project's goals, to provide the framework to guide efforts.

I had a writer once tell me: "I'm stuck, but I only have six months to finish my project, so I don't have time to learn to work any differently." But I think that kind of thinking eliminates the chance that I can really help: I can't force someone to work with a whip. I can't even entice them to work with kindness and positive support. What I can do is help the writer see the project differently; I can help a writer see positive opportunities to develop his or her interests and abilities.

Having said these things, I now have to go back to the paper I'm writing, lest I let the momentum slack (thus falling into one of the traps that I fall into). And I want to jump into the revision (the third complete rewrite of the 8 pages since Wednesday) before I start to think how hard it is to revise.

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